Grouse, Pheasants and Old Glassby R. Michael DiLullo
"The variety and density of life is often the greatest along edges."
We worked our way through the ancient apple orchard without flushing a single grouse. The cool October morning was giving way to the warmth of the sun, as my female English springer spaniel "Bess" and I climbed over a rock wall and stepped into a field of overgrown broom straw and fescue grass. The sun warmed my face and I stopped for a moment to enjoy the sensation. Rising steam from my shirt collar began to fog my glasses. Removing them, I wiped away the sweat from my brow, whistled to "Bess" and continued along through the field.
Although the morning temperature was in the low forties, a freeze the night before had caused skim-ice to form on the puddles. I had worked-up a sweat bustin’ brush in the dark jungle of tangled brambles and briars below the orchard. As we crested a hill, I stopped to catch my breath and take in the view before me. A frost \overed the landscape, turning the ground foliage into a glaze of ice crystals. The shroud of white and the vibrant autumn colors lay juxtaposed against an azure sky. A light breeze was blowing through the trees and the bright hues of red, orange and gold danced to the wind’s rhythm. A perfect October morning to be afield, I thought. My breath was rising like the mist off the farm pond to my left, and "Bess’" panting resembled that of a lumbering locomotive. The air was cold and damp, and I could feel my wet shirt against my back, as an uncontrollable shiver overtook my body.
Besides some new scratches and a bruise or two, the only thing I had to show for my morning’s effort was an antique Pepsi bottle. I found it nestled under some old tires and boards in a hardwood bottom. I noticed it after my foot discovered an exposed root of a pin oak, and I took a nose-dive into the soft mixture of fertile earth and deciduous leaves that made-up the forest floor. The bottle laid half concealed, its neck sticking out of the debris. I removed it from it’s resting place in the junk pile and raised myself back onto my feet. I remember noticing the weight and thickness of the glass. The red and white Pepsi-Cola logo was slightly faded, but overall the bottle was in remarkably good shape for spending nearly half a century exposed to the elements. I wiped it off, admired it for a moment and placed it in my game bag.
Treasures of an October morning; hunting old homesteads has always been productive for upland birds because they offer large areas of edge cover. They can also yield treasures from eras long since past.
Photo by: Author
Ahead of me, almost completely camouflaged against the background of saplings, overgrown vines and bushes, was an abandoned farm. Thorn and briar bushes along an old fence line led to the battered farmhouse and dilapidated barn. The house was still intact. Most of the windows were broken, however, and there was a good size hole in the roof where the limb of a large oak had come to rest during some storm years before. Part of the porch roof had fallen in, and the overgrown hedges and ivy had taken over. A net of ivy vines covered the front of the house and several cedar trees had taken root helping to conceal the old home-site even more. As I moved closer, I noticed it had that distinct smell of rotting wood and earth, of mildew and sun baked pine tar, the same smells that seem to always inhabit these lost places.
The barn’s roof had collapsed bringing with it part of the sides of the building. As I came around the side of the house to get a better look at the barn, I noticed something move from the corner of my eye. There in the tangles of an overgrown grapevine were two grouse. The birds were busy feeding and preening themselves and hadn’t noticed me yet. Almost before I had stepped from the cedars that were concealing me from their sight, they flushed in an explosion of feathers. I swung and leveled the Charles Daly on the bird to my right. As the old twenty spoke, I saw the bird veer sharply and disappear in the brush near the barn.
"Bess" broke and was on the bird before I had time to reach for my whistle. After several seconds of crashing through waist high brush she appeared from the cover with the bird in her mouth. I accepted the retrieve and gave her a loving pat on the head. As we walked about the old home-site, I could not help thinking that there always seems to be a sadness associated with places like this. I find myself wondering what happened to the owners, what tragedies beset their lives that caused them to give-up their land and their home. I suppose it is a type of morbid curiosity, a part of human nature that exists in all of us. It is also part of the romance and allure of these lonely places.
Hunting old fence lines and hedgerows can be very productive for upland birds. The Authors English springer spaniel "Bess" with a trio of pheasants, all shot along an old fence-line on an abandoned farm.
Photo by: Author
As we made our way around the barn, I realized something an old-timer told me when I first started hunting, that old home-sites are magnets for wildlife. Much of my knowledge, both of hunting, fishing and life, has come from experience. The rest has come from research and the advice of older, more experienced, and usually wiser individuals. Although, at times I was too stubborn to accept it, in hindsight I later realized their advice was usually worthy of much consideration. As I reflected back over my time spent afield, I began to realize how much game I have observed, hunted and harvested in just this type of environment. For they are usually very productive havens for upland bird hunting. These areas provide adequate cover and food sources for a large variety of small game animals. Many of my days hunting for pheasants and quail are spent concentrated around abandoned farms and old home-sites. The mixture of overgrown and broken cover, of fields and patches of saplings, thickets and secondary growth that typifies abandoned homesteads are natural attractors for game. This mixing of various covers and food sources lend itself to the fringe element in which game animals thrive.